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Japan seeks court order to dissolve Unification Church

The move comes over a year after former PM Abe was murdered by a man who despised the church
A portrait of former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is seen during a memorial event. His assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, said he targeted Abe for promoting the Unification Church, a cult-like organization he blamed for destroying his family

A portrait of former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is seen during a memorial event. His assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, said he targeted Abe for promoting the Unification Church, a cult-like organization he blamed for destroying his family. (Photo: Takashi Aoyama/AFP)

Published: September 05, 2023 10:04 AM GMT
Updated: September 05, 2023 12:02 PM GMT

The Japanese government is moving ahead to seek a court order to dissolve the Unification Church more than a year after the murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that brought the controversial Christian group under intense scrutiny.

The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida plans to dissolve the church as early as mid-October, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Sept. 3.

This came after an investigation into the group’s activities following Abe's assassination on July 8 last year by Tetsuya Yamagami who allegedly targeted the former premier for his ties with the Church.

Government sources said there is also a plan to call on the Tokyo District Court to levy a fine against the group’s representative director within days as the church, also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, failed to answer numerous questions related to the church’s alleged shady business practices, the report stated.

The steps hint that the Kishida government wants to demonstrate that the government is making a clean break with the Unification Church following a public uproar over its ties to ruling party lawmakers.

The Unification Church is accused of making millions for its alleged shady activities including massive financial donations from followers and from so-called “spiritual sales.”

Reports say hefty donations resulted in miseries for families of the church members. Tetsuya Yamagami’s family reportedly faced economic hardships after his mother donated about US$1 million to the church.

Yamagami had blamed Abe for promoting the church.

Japan’s Religious Corporations Law says a court can issue a dissolution order if a religious corporation commits an “act in violation of laws and regulations that is clearly recognized as being substantially detrimental to public welfare.”

The government concluded that a dissolution order was merited in this case because the Unification Church engaged in “vicious, organized and continued” activities that outweighed arguments about freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution, theAsahi Shimbun reported citing sources.

They said the decision to seek to disband the church was based on testimony from former church followers who made donations, court rulings in civil lawsuits that ordered damage payments to the organization, and records submitted by the church.

Abe’s shooting prompted a government probe into the church while media reports revealed its political connections amid shady financial dealings.

The government investigators sought detailed information about the donations, the church’s operating budget, records on its finances and assets, as well as its organizational operation.

The church’s reply arrived in late August. The government does not intend to question the church again, the sources said.

It now plans to call on the Tokyo District Court to issue a dissolution order after convening a meeting of the Council on Religious Corporations.

Either party that disagrees with the decision can appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Unification Church has argued that a dissolution order is not warranted because the matter of donations is no longer a major social issue.

It said the number of times the church was taken to court over donations has substantially decreased after the organization issued a legal compliance declaration in 2009.

Until now, two religious organizations have been handed dissolution orders for violation of religious corporation law.

The Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult responsible for deadly sarin attacks in Tokyo in 1995 and the Myokakuji temple group received dissolution orders over violations of laws and regulations.

Both groups appealed against the order in the Supreme Court. It took seven months for the order to Aum Shinrikyo to be finalized and about three years for the one for Myokakuji.

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